Today is a defining moment in Australian media history, with social media giant Facebook deciding it does not want to pay for news content flowing through its news feed.
This decision, shared on Facebook’s blog in the early hours, is a move in direct response to the government’s proposed Media Bargaining law, which would see major platforms like Facebook and Google pay Australian publishers for their content. Whilst Google seems to be making progress, following signed agreements with Nine Entertainment, News Corp and Seven West Media, it seems Facebook is not choosing the same path.
So, what does this mean?
Essentially, it means Facebook has blocked approximately 11.5 million Australian users and the country’s publishers from viewing or sharing news on the platform. So, with immediate effect, we cannot share news links in posts.
Why has Facebook chosen to do this?
There are several scenarios being shared. First, Facebook says it generated about 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated $407 million, and points out that it is different to Google saying publishers willingly choose to post news on its platform to grow their audience, and reap the benefits that brings. But, in truth, publishers do choose to appear or not in Google Search and Google News.
Other reasons cited are in the name of money, suggesting Facebook is putting its bottom line ahead of its users’ needs, and that the social media giant is doing it to get amendments made to the proposed legislation. The sad thing is, it removes legitimate news sources from the social platform, which will be an advantage to those that pedal fake news.
We should note that restricting access to news is not a good thing in our society, especially when there is so much dis-information floating around. Now, it seems, we will have to rely on other social platforms, and hope the Australian government and Facebook can find a pathway forward. Some middle ground.
In the meantime, some of the country’s media buyers say Facebook will still be an attractive proposition to advertisers. Others are sitting on the fence and say it will take a few months to see what impact it has, if any.
For Facebook itself, it will be interesting to see if its community feels aggrieved by its decision and leave the platform. After all, citizens demand more transparency and ethical behaviour, so this move by Facebook could backfire on them. Again, time will tell.
We will all watch with much interest what eventuates over the next few months.
In the meantime, we can all support our media industry and purchase subscriptions, especially some of the smaller publishers who rely on their Facebook communities, only to wake up this morning and find all previous posts wiped.
For now, it’s time for brands to perhaps re-prioritise media channels, and perhaps some of the other social media platforms will emerge stronger. Time will tell.